Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

Comment

Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

fullsizeoutput_11ee.jpeg

Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.

fullsizeoutput_1203.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_120c.jpeg

But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise. 

fullsizeoutput_11ff.jpeg

It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).

fullsizeoutput_1207.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_11f7.jpeg

This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.

Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.

NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.

 

fullsizeoutput_11f8.jpeg

Ingredients (serves 4)

50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)

1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced

3 cloves garlic

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped

30g sugar

Large sprig fresh thyme

100ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock.  (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)

500g frozen peas

20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks

100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Method

1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil

2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time

3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third

4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes

5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately

6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm. 

fullsizeoutput_120d.jpeg

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

Sticky Date & Amaretti Crumble Bars

Comment

Sticky Date & Amaretti Crumble Bars

fullsizeoutput_db1.jpeg

A trip to Toronto when I was seven years’ old is anchored for me by one thing: not the CN tower, or Niagara Falls or my cousin’s wedding, but a visit to the farmers’ market, and in particular, a potentially life-changing stall.  A tall, russet-cheeked man was in command, his floured apron stretched taught over his protuberant belly. 

fullsizeoutput_db5.jpeg

And on his table lay not the garish, sprinkle- speckled swirls that would have drawn a normal child. Instead, tray after tray of rubbly slabs of oat and date crumble bars were arrayed. 

The date layer of the bars was jaw-clenchingly sticky, and thick – not like the mean, shop-bought equivalent. The oaty outer layers were both crunchy and then soft, golden and not overly sweet, allowing the natural date sweetness to shine through. 

fullsizeoutput_dc8.jpeg

. For the last seventeen years I’ve been raiding bakeries and markets, seeking to relive the experience, but the date and oat crumble bars always disappoint – too saccharine, too solid, too floury. In between raids, I’ve been working on my own: these are the closest I have come to Toronto’s best kept secret. I added the crushed amaretti to give them a little twist. Feel free to leave the sugar out of the crumble if your palate is adjusted to the less-sweet. 

It’s incredibly hard to resist them when they emerge from the oven golden and crisp, but I think they taste even better when they have cooled and the flavours are more distinct (or maybe try them both ways, just to be sure…).

NB. They can be made gluten-free by substituting gluten-free flour for spelt. 

fullsizeoutput_1223.jpeg

Ingredients

Date filling

400g medjool dates, pitted & roughly chopped (about 20)

3 tbsp fresh orange juice

120ml water

2 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp finely grated orange zest

 

Crumble

250g oats

120g butter

100g wholemeal spelt flour

50g dry amaretti biscuits

40g light brown muscovado sugar

¼ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp salt

A square 20cm baking tin (or tin of equivalent area), lined with baking parchment, with sides and base fully covered.

Method 

1)    Preheat oven to 180°C

2)    Place all ingredients for the date filling in a pot and place on a medium heat. Stir as the mixture begins to simmer. After about 5 minutes, when the dates have broken down into more of a paste and all the water has evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside.

3)    Pour all the crumble ingredients into a blender and pulse until the mixture still has some texture  and is slightly coarser than sand.

4)    Pour 2/3 of the crumble mixture into the base of the tin, and, with your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the mixture down evenly across the base of the tin until firm and compact. Pour the date filling over and spread evenly across the base. Then pour over the remaining crumble mixture and press down until even and as compact as possible.

5)    Place in oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.

6)    Slice and allow to cool before devouring. Keeps well in an air tight container in fridge for up to 5 days, or in freezer for 2 months (also tastes delicious when frozen).

fullsizeoutput_1229.jpeg

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

Comment

Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

fullsizeoutput_9c0.jpeg

I feel immense joy when I see canapés floating along the horizon of a wine-soaked room. Salty, crunchy, flavour-filled bites to pop into your mouth and stave off hunger. But in reality, the canapés path is far more obstacle- laden. Here are a few of the typical scenarios that I have endured, or have watched others enduring:

fullsizeoutput_9cf.jpeg
  • The hidden two- biter: where you hesitate over whether to put the whole thing in your mouth, decide to go for it and then have to find a way to swivel the thing around inside your cheeks until it becomes vaguely chewable, all while trying to hold down a conversation
fullsizeoutput_9c4.jpeg

  • The crumbler – this one disintegrates before it even reaches your mouth. This doesn’t necessarily result in interrupted conversation, but ends up being problematic when you shake hands with someone and end up leaving a stick, flaky deposit in their palm
fullsizeoutput_9bb.jpeg

  • The burner – you were warned about the heat but went for it anyway. If you were alone you would probably spit it out, but in the interests of politeness and retaining friends, you endure a scorched oesophagus 
fullsizeoutput_9ed.jpeg

  • The stringer – this is reserved for molten- cheese filled croquetas.  Delicious, yes, but they leave the unsuspecting devourer s with frills around their lips reminiscent of Futurama’s Zoiburg.
fullsizeoutput_9b6.jpeg

The following will help you steer clear of the above pitfalls: small, savoury and succulent, these are the perfect canapés.  Indeed, they are suitable for consumption at any time. They are crisp on the outside and soft and light inside, flecked with molted feta and cheddar, and with a hint of the more exotic nigella seeds. This recipe makes 18 but I would urge you to double it as they are so addictive.  They are also ridiculously easy and quick to conjure up.

NB. these can be made gluten-free by simply substituting spelt flour with gluten-free)

Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones (makes 18)

 

Ingredients

100g sour cream

2 tbsp milk

80g mature cheddar cheese, grated

80g feta, roughly diced into 0.5cm cubes

50g unsalted butter, cold and roughly diced into ¾ cm cubes

200g white spelt flour (can substitute with plain flour or gluten-free)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp nigella seeds

[optional: ½ tsp cayenne pepper]

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

1 large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper

 

Method

1)    Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl by hand, or in a food mixer fitted with a paddle, briefly mix together the sour cream, milk, cheddar, feta and butter. Pour in the flour, baking powder, salt and nigella seeds (and cayenne if using), and mix until just combined into a dough. You may need to knead the dough by hand very slightly for it to come together.

2)    Place dough onto a floured surface, pat into a square and roll it out to roughly 2.5cm thickness. Slice the dough into nine squares, like a noughts and crosses board, and then slice the squares diagonally to form 18 triangles.

3)    Arrange the triangles on the baking tray, leaving at least 3cm between them. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on the outside. They are best devoured immediately or on the day of baking. 

Adapted from Honey & Co's "Food From the Middle East" recipe for Bouikos

 

fullsizeoutput_9b8.jpeg

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comment

Pear & Speculoos Caramelised Cookie Magic Cake

Comment

Pear & Speculoos Caramelised Cookie Magic Cake

IMG_0123.jpg

Maybe they think that all the gluttony and swollen stomachs affect our ability to digest information, that all the turkey/mince/fruit/chocolate/stuffing becomes blinding and we are no longer able to read paragraphs of text.  Instead, we have to have things numbered so as to reassure us that whatever we are reading won’t detract too long from the Christmas stasis.  

IMG_9965.jpg

Every newspaper or magazine clearly has some greedy journalist on its team who takes it upon him or herself to rate every mince pie out there to save us all the hard work. Then the subjective lists are compiled and played back to us year after year, despite the foods remaining the same, in the identical, consumable, numbered format.

In response to this, and inspired by an affront to my eyes when opening the newspaper magazine this weekend, I thought I would do a light review of the food adverts themselves:

IMG_0052.jpg

WAITROSE

Apparently, it’s for fruit lovers: congealed, glistening and with blood/jam trickling through its rivulets. But what is it? Depends how you like your desserts, but I’ll pass.

1/5

IMG_0079.jpg

SAINSBURY’S

I know Christmas is supposedly about family and coming together, but the picture of “grandma” with a prawn coming out of her head doesn’t conjure up any feelings of warmth for me 

1/5

IMG_0100.jpg
IMG_0113.jpg
IMG_0133.jpg

BOURSIN

I’ve caught members of my family spooning Boursin directly into their mouths. I was cynical at first about their Christmas rebrand with the addition of the “merry” epithet. But somehow, heady with garlicky creaminess, it has caught on in my household – we are now asking each other whether we’d like some “Merry Boursin” on our toast.

4/5

IMG_0045.jpg

 

LIDL

Lidl has gone down the particularly salivating route in showing us the turkeys pre-slaughter. They are relaxing free range by a bale of hay with the sun shining to stained glass effect through the translucent wattles. Delicious.

0/5

IMG_0147.jpg

Anyway, with all this Christmas “magic” abounding (and as a remedy for all this gaudiness), we might as well move on to an actual “magic” cake. Making a cake is magical enough, but there is a childlike joy when you put a homogeneous mix into the oven and it emerges, burnished, in perfectly ordered layers. This particular magic cake is like a perfectly formed French entremet, but without the effort.  All it requires is eggs to be separated and whisked and somehow it all falls into place. When making the speculoos topping, I would advise making a bit extra to allow some innocent “sampling” during the process (it’s ambrosial).

IMG_0099.jpg

 

Ingredients

 

Speculoos layer

300g Speculoos cookies + 100g for decoration

220ml unsweetened condensed milk

¼ tsp salt

 

Cake

3 eggs, separated

75g caster sugar

90g unsalted butter

50g plain flour

¼ tsp salt

300ml milk

4 small pears, peeled, cored and diced into 1cm cubes

 

21cm square cake tin (or round tin with similar area) fully lined with baking parchment.  It doesn’t matter if the tin is marginally larger or smaller

 

Method

1)    Preheat the oven to 150°C

2)    Put all the ingredients for the speculoos layer into a blender and blitz until smooth, and set aside.

3)    Melt the butter and set aside to cool. In a bowl (if doing by hand) or electric mixer beat the sugar with the egg yolks until thick and pale. Pour in the butter and 150g of the Speculoos layer and gently combine. Then sieve in the flour and salt and fold to combine. Pour in the milk and combine.

4)    In the bone-dry bowl of an electric mixer or by hand, whisk the egg whites vigorously until they thicken and hold their shape in stiff peaks. Very gently fold them into the batter, taking care to preserve the aeration.

5)    Scatter the diced pear evenly on the bottom of the cake tin, then gently pour the batter on top. Smooth the surface with a knife and place in the oven to cake for 35 minutes. The cake will still be soft when you remove it from the oven but this is how it is meant to be. Put it onto a rack to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for an hour to set.

6)    To serve, lift the cake out of the tin on the serving plate using the baking parchment and remove baking parchment. I choose to slice off the cake edges in order to better expose the layers. Spread the remaining speculoos layer on top and over it crumble the decorative speculoos cookies.

IMG_0001.jpg

Recipe adapted from "Magic Cakes" by Christelle Huet-Gomez

Comment

Triple Layer Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla Cake

Comment

Triple Layer Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla Cake

fullsizeoutput_848.jpeg
fullsizeoutput_809.jpeg

It’s on an almost daily basis that I find my thoughts converging on that scene in Matilda:  Bruce vs the chocolate cake – moist, dense, dark, and yes, revolting. It’s a tempting challenge, and only on a handful of occasions in my life have I come close to those chocolatey depths (or heights, depending on your perspective). 

fullsizeoutput_819.jpeg

The first time was at my 9th birthday party which took place in the civilized private room of a pottery painting shop, surrounded by friends from my all-girls school, all politely detailing their teacups with flowers, and hearts, and stars. The birthday cake arrived, tall and majestic, lavishly enrobed in sumptuous swathes of soft chocolate buttercream.